“Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born (Luke 2:6).” Undoubtedly the infant Jesus was brought kicking and screaming into the world, much as many now have been brought kicking and screaming into Christmas. It has not been a pleasant year, at least not for the greater part of this nation, and the winter ahead looks desolate and bitter. Yet from the pulpit the priest declares that this is a holy night; in the midst of this present depression a night of solace and wonder. Had it not been for the knowledge that this priest has worked tirelessly to comfort those suffering the blast of homelessness and hunger his words might have been more easily dismissed as a hollow and ignorant platitudes. His words were not such, not for him and his community, and yet I found myself antagonised by every syllable. That there were only ten festively decorated windows to be counted, among the hundreds passed on the walk through the city to the friary, stood against the pious declaration of this night’s sanctity. The very fact that half of the pews in his church were empty declared in a deafening silence that the people themselves felt little relief in the holiness of which he spoke. It was the courage of his faith, a hope in an ideal which lacked any supporting evidence, which proclaimed the holiness of the night without. His words echoed those of Karl Rahner who wrote:
“Now there is stillness in the world only for a little while. The busyness which is proudly called universal history, or one’s own life, is only the stratagem of an eternal love that wills to enable us to give a free answer to its final word.”
Accepting the holiness or the stillness of this night, as opposed to any other night on the calendar, is an acceptance of a strange reality wherein the special event of the incarnation of God in history is repeated anew with each turn of the year. In the logic of religious truth this night may well be different from all other nights, but the Truth is that this night is a night like any other; a reality acknowledged by Rahner: “For how can this word be spoken when both humanity and the world are recognised as dreadful, empty abysses?” The world is the abyss – and this is precisely the point of the Gospel which ascribes significance not to the night of the event but to the event itself.
It is upon this truth that tonight, as on every other night, the message of Christmas has meaning. I can no longer buy the idea that the presence of ‘God with us’ in Christ is limited to a little town in Palestine, or a single evening at the celebration of Yule. Notwithstanding all of the pious fictions, the aggregate of which is the Nativity Story, I believe in the incarnation of God with us in this Jewish child. I have passed believing in this ‘special event’ for the sake of the man this babe would become; this, I fear, was never the point of the ministry of the man. I believe that the event of God becoming the son of his own daughter sanctified and make holy every night and day in that it glorified history – our story. In truly becoming a creature that would die, the undying Creator hollowed all human life. As a people called to be interested in those things which interest our God we are compelled to bear witness to the holiness of the Christ-child which is inseparably part of all of our sisters and brothers.
And so, my belovéd Reader, it is You I adore today. I will, on bended knee, offer You the gifts of my service and often stumbling humility. On this holy day and on every day made holy by the reality of Christ in our midst I offer my love because God first offered Her love in the gift that is Herself. Even though we are struggling, know that we are struggling together and that God is with us. What more can be said?